New stricter regulations on citrus fruit imports could have led to a mass shortage of Etrogs for British Jews this Sukkot – if not for a vital intervention by the Board of Deputies.
The Jewish communal organisation worked with Etrog importers, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (DEFRA), after hundreds of Etrogs were seized at Manchester Airport a few days ago.
Etrog importers had been unaware of new UK rules on the importation of citrus fruits with stalks.
Stephen Colman, a leading Etrog importer, described his “shock and concern” when informed that his first batch of Etrogim had been held at the airport “with a view to their destruction or deportation.”
That shock, he said, had been followed by “fear” at the realisation of the possible implications for the approximately 10,000 etrogs due for import to the UK this year.
Etrogs (or etrogim in the Hebrew plural) make up one of the Four Species (Arba Minim), which Jews are Biblically mandated to obtain for Sukkot – along with the lulav (palm branch), haddasim (myrtle branches) and aravot (willow branches).
The fruit grows best in warm climates, with the majority of etrogs imported to Britain from the Mediterranean.
Mr Colman said the confiscation of etrogim “would have had a serious impact on the ability of Jews to observe Sukkot.”
The Board was able to propose an acceptable solution – the 600 etrogs at Manchester airport will be taken to a Manchester synagogue, where their stalks will be trimmed to the specification of the stricter rules – but in a way which does not invalidate the fruit for use during the festival.
Other etrogs due to enter the country in the coming days will be able to be sent to specific locations, mostly synagogues, with the proviso that the fruit is destroyed after the festival.
“I cannot thank the Board of Deputies enough for their swift and effective intervention with Government, and DEFRA and the APHA for their support and help in making this possible,” Mr Colman said.
“I think it is no exaggeration to say that we may just have 'saved Sukkot'.
“We hope that most or all of the etrogs will now meet the import regulations, but I will be working with my fellow importers to ensure our customers understand what they need to do with the etrogs after the festival to ensure compliance, and working with our suppliers in Israel and elsewhere to ensure we have no repeat of this in future years."
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, praised “the timely intervention” by her organisation, and the work done by the Board’s staff, Mr Colman and DEFRA and APHA officials.
“The waving of the lulav and etrog with hadas and arava is an essential and iconic part of the festival and it was vital to ensure the supply of etrogs for this year”, she said.
“I would also call on the community to ensure that they follow instructions about how they need to dispose of etrogs after the festival and on suppliers to ensure that etrogs are imported in full compliance with regulations in the years ahead."
Defra Minister Theresa Villiers thanked all parties “for coming to this pragmatic arrangement which will ensure that the UK Jewish community can fully celebrate Sukkot while ensuring that our precious plant health is protected.
“We plan to stay in touch with the Board of Deputies and importers as the season progresses to ensure this runs and smoothly as possible and work together to prevent any similar issues in future years."